Restraining the mentally ill
Cops respond to over 450 cases in last 9 months; deadly or lethal force used six timesSaturday, September 25, 2021
BY NIKEL INNERARITY
LINSTEAD, St Catherine — Of the more than 450 incidents involving the mentally ill that the police have responded to in the Corporate Area and St Catherine so far this year, lethal or deadly force was used six times, according to Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson.
“For the most part, our officers recognise that these people have an illness and we work with the Ministry of Health, particularly the departments that deal with mental health, to get them the treatment that they require,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. He had travelled to Linstead Police Station to grieve with his team after Detective Constable Paul Gordon was killed by a stone hurled by mentally ill 25-year-old Alwayne Shakespeare. Shakespeare's family maintain that their frequent appeals to the police to get him off the streets went unheeded.
The commissioner explained that members of the JCF are trained to handle encounters with the mentally ill, but the issue requires a long-term medical response.
“The thing about mental-health treatment is that it is an ongoing process. They need to be medicated on a regular and consistent basis. But to put [them] back into the community, that comes with its own challenges unless someone is constantly managing their medication, and know where they are,” he said. “Failure to do this is why we reach a police response of that many  hundreds of cases. It's not that each one is a new one, but each one we get we respond to, and manage as best as we can,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Police Federation Rohan James has called on the Government to do more to equip first responders to deal with the mentally ill, repeating previous calls for “trained officers as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to respond to tragic situations and to assist persons with mental illness”.
“We need to have those persons who are so trained equipped to respond to these situations like what took place here today in Linstead,” he told reporters.
He cautioned the Government not to focus on its battle with COVID-19 to the peril of all other health-related concerns.
“It is important for the Government to understand that while we tackle the pandemic, they can't so deplete the resources that those of unsound mind are left unattended to,” James noted. “I am saying that it's time for us to make a concerted effort to wrap our minds around the limited resources and deploy them appropriately.”
He added that the death of Detective Constable Paul Gordon was a critical blow to the JCF.
“We have lost a colleague [and] that will affect the capacity of the force because he was a senior crime personnel and anyone who works in that field is of great value in terms of expertise and impact on the justice system,” said James. “So we have been left one short. We are hoping that good sense will sprevail, and that the necessary stance will be taken where the focus won't only be on COVID, but the mental-health cases that are out on the street,” he remarked.
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